The Salt Roads

61nvaeyynml._sl500_The Salt Roads* by Nalo Hopkinson

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Bahni Turpin

Source: my own collection

Length: 13:15:00

Publisher: Tantor Audio

Year: 2003

This is the story of a fertility goddess, Ezilie, sometimes called Lasiren, and the women whose bodies she possesses. The main point of view characters are Mer, a healer and slave on a plantation on the island of St. Domingue, what is now Haiti; Jeanne Duval, the Haitian mistress of Charles Baudelaire; and Thais or Meritet, a Nubian slave and prostitute in Alexandria, Egypt, who later becomes known as Mary of Egypt. In nonlinear timelines, the narrative follows the lives of these women as Lasiren inhabits and influences them. Mer is tasked with clearing the salt roads, the connections between Haitian slaves and their African gods. She tries to do so through peaceful means, even though a violent rebel called Makandal is rising in power and urging slaves to revolt against white slave owners. Mer knows her duty is to heal all the Ginen people. Jeanne Duval’s narrative focuses more on economic freedom. She is trying to support herself and her mother, who is ill and can’t afford medicine. To do so, she becomes a stage dancer in hopes of catching the eye of a rich man who will take her as his mistress and set her up in comfort so she can care for herself and her mother. Thais’s story comes pretty late in the book overall, but I think it can represent freedom from sexual slavery, since she was a prostitute and relied on that for survival before Lasiren began interacting with her, driving her to wander the desert. Her interactions with Lasiren eventually resulted in her sainthood.

At first, I admit I didn’t quite get this story. I really enjoyed it, but it took a few days of really thinking about it for me to find the threads that bound it together. I really love that, when a story makes me think and I don’t get it right away. Maybe I still don’t have it right, but this is what I’ve come up with. The various forms of freedom are, I believe, the overarching theme. The salt is the common element which binds women around the world together, through blood, sweat, tears, birth fluids, and sex.

I really enjoyed the way the lives of these women were linked throughout the story. They were so very different, but they each had their own struggles for freedom which bound them together, and Lasiren teased out their desires and eventually managed to bring comfort to them all, even if it was a long time coming.

Each setting was vivid and complex, containing rich cultural details. I hadn’t known, for example, that Makandal was a real man and that he did actually instigate a rebellion on St. Domingue. I learned as well that the Ginen is the Haitian name for the ancestral home of enslaved Africans, and that it referred to the slaves on St. Domingue. I didn’t know that Charles Baudelaire had a Haitian mistress. I had never heard of Mary of Egypt. Now I have so many new things to read about in more depth because of this book!

The narrator, Bahni Turpin, did a stellar job, as she always does. Her accents really bring the characters to life and she dramatizes the story without being melodramatic. She is one of my favorite narrators.

This is definitely one of the most unique books I’ve read ever, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend it and am looking forward to reading more by Nalo Hopkinson.

 

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Children of Earth and Sky

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Cover image from Children of Earth and Sky

I’m a big fan of magical realism and what I call near-fantasy, where things are familiar and close but just different enough to make you remember you aren’t actually in your own world. Guy Gavriel Kay is a master of creating this type of world (as are Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link). His newest novel, Children of Earth and Sky, is another example of his creative skill and delightful storytelling ability.

This book creates such a lovely, rich world full of complex and interesting people. Kay’s main characters in this novel are fascinating and multifaceted. He has a wonderful ability to make you get attached to them quickly, which isn’t always a good thing when some of them die right away. Only it is, because it’s awesome when a book gives you the feels right away and DOESN’T FREAKING STOP. The characters are all well rounded and interesting throughout, even the minor characters. You can’t help but care about them, even ones you don’t think you want to care about. Danica, Marin, Pero, Leonora, Neven, they are all vibrant and living people, each with their own path to take, and I genuinely cared about each of them every step of the way.

Kay gives a tale of a quasi-Renaissance Europe that is rife with political turmoil and intrigue, complete with his usual flair for weaving in elements of magical realism. The world he creates is just on the edge of recognition, which I absolutely love about all of his works that I’ve read. I always get the feeling that I’ve been there or studied this in history before, but then he pulls a literary stunt to remind me that I’m actually reading a really well crafted fantasy, like a dead relative cohabiting in someone else’s mind with them. This was the perfect escapism fantasy for me. I want to reread all of Kay’s other novels now!

Trigger Warning

I adore Neil Gaiman. I love his vivid imagery, the subtlety of the stories, the unique way he has of seeing the world. He himself is awesome as well, and is someone I would love to have a beer with. Here is a wonderful interview of Neil on the Diane Rehm show. She is painful to listen to, but thankfully he is not. I loved his discussion about being read to, how adults never get stories read to them anymore and it’s tragic. I agree entirely with his comments that it is odd to put trigger warnings on literature, especially literature for adults.

http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2015-02-19/neil_gaiman_trigger_warning
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The Oracle Glass

When I can’t decide what book to read next, I just go down the alphabet of titles I have. I was on the letter O, and don’t actually have many choices for that one. The Oracle Glass was the next up, so I chose it. I honestly do not remember how I ended up owning this book. It is set in France and not in a time period I typically care at all about. It is magical realism/gothic, which is probably how it got on my TBR list, and an excess of gift money is probably the reason it ended up in my personal library. But I am not too sorry that it did. Read More »

The Night Circus

“Now the circus is open. Now you may enter.”

I am not entirely sure what I think about this book. It was not quite what I expected, though I am not sure what I expected in the first place. The plot was intricate and complex and well executed, though it was a little slow for my taste.  The writing, however, was some of the most lush, vivid, gorgeous that I have ever encountered. That alone was enough to keep me reading.Read More »